Tuesday 24 October 2017

Shroud of secrecy as guns for Rising land in Kilcoole

The Kilcoole gun-running is often overlooked in favour of the Howth gun-running event of 1914 but this year, to mark the centenary, the people of Kilcoole planned a weekend long festival of events.

The story of the Irish Volunteers smuggling guns and ammunition into Howth is widely known but the second landing at Kilcoole, by the Chotah, is one which has almost been forgotten in Irish history. Part of the reason why the Asgard's landing at Howth is so well-known is because it was carried out in broad daylight. It was done in full view of the British authorities in a blaze of propaganda.

Gregori Meakin of the local organising committee said 'When our group of locals came together to plan for the centenary of the Kilcoole gun-running on August 2, 2014, we noticed that the landing had become just a footnote in the Howth gun-running account. The Kilcoole story was easily forgotten; it was a kept a secret at the time, a back-up in case Howth did not succeed.

On the 50th anniversary in Kilcoole, historian FX Martin voiced his regret that: 'the rigorous secrecy which surrounded the Kilcoole gun-running meant that most of the information about it has remained hidden and some of it has unfortunately been lost.'

Gregori said that, in a bid to throw a spotlight on the role played by Kilcoole, the centenary celebrations were organised and they also produced a booklet 'Forgotten History: The Kilcoole Gun-Running.'

He said that, in contrast to the Howth gun-running, 'the Kilcoole delivery was carried out under the cover of darkness and shrouded in total secrecy to ensure its cargo did get through.'

Gun-running was necessary after the British authorities in Dublin Castle put a ban of anyone importing arms into Ireland in a bid to quell rising tensions between the Nationalists and Unionists.

Erskine Childers boat, The Asgard, and a boat known as The Kelpie, owned by well known Limerick volunteer Conor O'Brien, were chosen to bring the guns from Germany to Ireland. The guns were Mauser Model 1871 single shot 11m rifles which had been used in the Franco Prussian War of 1870 to 1871.

The plan was to divide the ammunition into two shipments with both the Asgard and the Kelpie taking a load which would increase the chances of at least one successful landing.

Gregori said 'Kilcoole was an ideal spot because its location was both remote and relatively close to Dublin. It is believed the Kilcoole native and member of the IRB, Captain Robert Monteith, influenced the selection of Kilcoole. As Monteith worked for the Ordnance Survey Department, his opinion would have been very influential. Having grown up in Kilcoole, he would have known that the beach, south of Ballygannon Point, was a blind spot which couldn't be seen by the coastguards at Greystones to the north or Newcastle to the south. He knew the roads and fields very well.'

On July 12 1914, The Kelpie and the Asgard arrived at their rendezvous point at Ruytingen Lightship on the River Scheldt where the guns were loaded. However, the Kelpie couldn't accommodate half of the load as planned and only managed to take 600 rifles and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.

Although furious at the change of plan, Childers agreed to take the remaining load but, despite the crew throwing some of the protective sacking and straw from around the guns, the Asgard was dangerously low in the water with the heavy load.

Off the Welsh coast it emerged that Conor O'Brien had told a number of people of the plans and it was feared that the Coast Guard would intercept the arms and another ship, The Chotah, was tasked to transport the guns the remainder of the journey.

Most of the crew transferred onto the Chotah, with the exception of Conor and Kitty O'Brien, who were going to use the Kelpie as a decoy for the Asgard.

Gregori said the job of organising Volunteers in Kilcoole was given to Sean Fitzgibbon. The landing was originally planned for July 25 but carrying out repairs to the sail of the Chotah forced the landing to be postponed.

On the evening of August 1, 1914 a small fishing boat, The Nugget, went to sea to meet with the Chotah to guide it closer to shore. The ships met at Kish Lighthouse and the Nugget towed the Chotah along the coast and both boats were seen off shore at around 11.30 p.m. according to Gregori. But it wasn't until early into August 2, 1914 that the guns were unloaded.

'Flashing lights between the shore and the boats signaled to all that it was time to move. Small rowing boats, hidden in rocks and reeds, were brought down to the beach. Greystones man Paddy Salmon, who was only ten years old at the time, later recalled going with his father Cornelius and using their boat, which had been hidden in the dunes ahead of the big night.

'As the Chotah was towed closer to shore by the Nugget the small flotilla rowed out to meet them. The arms, still bundled in straw and sacking, and ammunition were offloaded and transferred into smaller vehicles as quickly as possible.'

In a bid to speed up the operation several men waded out to help pull the smaller boats to shore. The guns and ammunition were then transported from Kilcoole in a Charabanc, which is an open topped bus which was very popular at the time for sightseeing.

Local coal man William Foley provided his horse and dray to transport the cargo from the beach to Station House, where the Charabanc and other cars were waiting.

The original plan had been to bring the guns to the Corporation reservoir near Stillorgan but it was now guarded and the guns were brought to St. Enda's in Rathfarnham, the bilingual school which had been founded by Padraig Pearse in 1908.

From here they were then taken to a number of secret stores around the city. However, things took a turn for the worst when the Charabanc broke down in Little Bray because of the weight of the load.

Luckily, the driver was Joseph Rosney, an ex-Bray resident who knocked on the doors of his old neighbours for help.

The guns and ammunition were hidden in the backyards of local houses until a convey of cars arrived from Rathfarnham.

Shortly after the cars left, a police patrol arrived but all that remained was a broken down Charabanc and some straw scattered on the road.

Bray People